Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018

Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Tuesday 12 October 2010 - A Great British Ridge Walk - Number 23 – A Deepdale Circuit – Fairfield via Birks and St Sunday Crag and descent via Hart Crag and the Hartsop above How Ridge

The Coniston Hills from the summit of Fairfield

Rick and Stuart, both recently retired from their all consuming careers, are enjoying regular walks in the Lake District.  They are following routes described in Bill Birkett’s brilliant work, ‘Complete Lakeland Fells’.  Today’s choice was ‘FAR 1’ – the Deepdale Horseshoe in an anti-clockwise direction, whereas Bill’s ‘Great British Ridge Walk No 23’ covers almost the same ground in the opposite direction.  Our chosen route actually included a couple of tops (‘Birketts’) not incorporated in route 23.

Descending from Kirkstone Pass towards Ullswater, we came upon a cloud inversion that saw us starting off from the Patterdale Hotel at 9.45am in mist.

In his youth, Rick was a class act on the running track.  He had forgotten that this was not a contest and set off at a burning pace up Arnison Crag.  This didn’t last – we took nearly 2.5 hours longer than Bill’s 5.25 hour estimate for this walk.

Our early speed did however extract us quickly from the mist, which continued to blanket Ullswater for most of the day.  Here, Rick and Stuart approach the 433 metre (1422 ft) summit of Arnison Crag.

Rick and Stuart ascending Arnison Crag

It was truly wonderful, with blue skies above and mist lingering in the valleys on this windless day.  We were soon down to t-shirts for the lumpy path to Trough Head and the subsequent steep ascent to our second summit, Birks – 622 metres (2040 ft).

Hand towels would have been welcome – we were all dripping in the heat.  Luckily the gradient eased as we continued towards our third and fourth summits, Gavel Pike – 784 metres (2572 ft) – on the left – and St Sunday Crag – 841 metres (2758 ft) – centre.

Looking up to Gavel Pike and St Sunday Crag, with Dollywagon and Nethernmost Pikes behind

Mist over Ullswater and to the east gave head-turning views, so we made slow progress.  Strange that the mist-shrouded views seemed more eye-catching than the normal views in which the lakes and valleys would be visible.

Looking back towards Grisedale and Ullswater

Once on the main trod from Grisedale we encountered quite a few folk on St Sunday Crag, beyond which we enjoyed a leisurely lunch amongst some kamikaze, non-biting flies.  Grisedale Tarn now lay ahead, with the Helvellyn massif to our right.  Beyond, Seat Sandal and the high peaks of the Lake District, with the distinctive bobble of Great Gable on the far horizon (to the right of the image below).

I’ve discovered that I was here 25 years ago to the day, on a Helvellyn/St Sunday Crag round from Patterdale.  Apparently I was too tired to go up Fairfield on that occasion!

Lunch beyond St Sunday Crag

After encountering a large group we enjoyed the scrambly (direct) ascent of our fifth summit, Cofa Pike – 823 metres (2700 ft).  Views opened out in the dazzling sunlight.  We spent some time with the 1:40,000 BMC map laid out before us, identifying hills far and wide – as wide as Grisedale Pike, anyway.

A short final scramble took us directly to the summit, our sixth, of Fairfield – 873 metres (2863 ft).

Rick approaches the summit of Fairfield, with St Sunday Crag in the background

This was the high point of the day in more ways than one.  The Coniston hills were revealed in the distance, their upper reaches shimmering in the sunshine whilst mist concealed their base.  The lakes of Coniston and Windermere languished below, partly obscured by a thin veneer of mist. (See link to slide show below.)

The Coniston hills, from Fairfield

There were now quite a few folk around.  Everyone was chatty and jolly.  It was that sort of day.  Between Fairfield and our seventh summit, Hart Crag – 822 metres (2698 ft), our ‘Deepdale Horseshoe’ route coincided with the ‘Fairfield Horseshoe’, a route from Ambleside.  So it’s a path I know well, but I don’t remember having enjoyed such stunning weather up here.

We lingered on Hart Crag, reluctant to lose a significant portion of the view.

Eventually we turned ENE with the sun on our backs and set our sights on the Hartsop above How Ridge, with Place Fell and the summits of High Street laid out in the distance.

Descending from Hart Crag, with High Street

Gill Crag, on the Hartsop above How Ridge, 582 metres (1909 ft), our eighth summit, provided an excellent spot to drain our flasks and finish the shortbread.

Further on, we hardly noticed the ninth and final lump on our route, Gale Crag, 512 metres (1680 ft).  There was lots of this [subsequently identified] Fir Clubmoss (Huperzia selago), looking very healthy on the Hartsop slopes.

Fir Clubmoss (Huperzia selago)

The day’s heat had finally dispersed the mist, but the low sun provided a lovely mellow light for the rest of our descent to Patterdale.  We really didn’t want to finish this walk, but we had to get home at some point, unlike the gent we had met on Hart Crag who was sensibly planning to stay high and camp at Grisedale Tarn.

Descending to Patterdale

However, we couldn’t resist a pint of nectar before leaving…

…we didn’t encounter any traffic problems – the ‘rush hour’ was long gone.

Refreshment Zone

A slide show (55 images) is here.

The day’s route, executed exactly as suggested by Bill Birkett in his ‘FAR 1’ route, is shown below.  It was about 15km with 1100 metres ascent and took 7.5 hours – a very leisurely pace was adopted once we had burst out of the mist into the sunshine above Patterdale.

Our route - 15km, 1100 metres ascent, 7.5 hours

Here is another link to Bill’s book, and to the accompanying and very worthwhile almanac.


Paul said...

Looks like a great day you had there Martin. That first pic (Coniston Hills from the summit of Fairfield) is deserving of a book cover.

Well, what a difference six months make. Did the Deepdale round 3rd April this year (but clockwise, and dropped down into Grisedale rather than going over Birks), and was mildly unnerved by the initial slippery descent off Fairfield in the snow. Comparing this to this is fun :-)

Gayle said...

Can't quite bring myself to view the slideshow today - I think the jealousy would reach unreasonable levels.

Martin Rye said...

I am with Gayle and very jealous. You had a fantastic day on the hills there Martin. Nice one.

Phreerunner said...

Tuesday was certainly one of the better days - as near to perfect as we could wish for. There have been a few of those this year.
The comparison is fun Paul, and it looks as if you also had a good day, it won't be long before those conditions prevail again.

The Odyssee said...

What a stunning days walk Martin. Special. One of those you never want to end.
Pity we cannot rely on weather like this.

Phreerunner said...

Agreed, Alan, but Stuart and Rick use their judgement when selecting which day to go, resulting in a much better chance of success. There were lots of people about, mostly pensioners...

Mark said...

It's a cracking route this one. I plodded round this one earlier this year with my pal Keith. We had a half reasonable day (but not as good as yours). We took forever to get round.
Now that you've made a start I anticipate that you will soon polish off the 541 Birketts. Ullscarf was 100 for me since my 'clean slate' start - so my 17 a year target (never very serious) has - as you predicted - turned out to be pretty feeble.

Phreerunner said...

I haven't done all the Wainwrights yet, Mark, let alone the Birketts. I note the summits I've been on but tend to choose routes for their intrinsic (usually high level) quality rather than to gain 'ticks', though there is a (perverse?) sense of satisfaction in maximising the number of ticks when I'm out on my own.